Can You Eat Sprouted Potatoes?

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You know the drill: You get ready to chop potatoes for dinner and notice some unwelcome "eyes." Immediately, you wonder, "Are sprouted potatoes safe to eat?"

We’ve all been there: You see a giant bag of potatoes on sale at the grocery store and jump on it. You can always whip up quick potato recipes, right?

But what happens when your potato sprouts tiny green roots? Can you eat sprouted potatoes? Or are you better off propagating potatoes instead?

Why Do Potatoes Sprout?

Potatoes will sprout when the conditions are right. If your spuds are in a well-lit area of the kitchen, in a basket with onions or on the counter after spending time in the refrigerator, they’ll end up with “eyes.”

It might be tempting to store your potatoes in the coldest place in the house to avoid this, but you should never store potatoes in the fridge. The starches can convert to sugar and produce dangerous chemicals when cooked.

Can You Eat Potatoes with Sprouts?

Probably not. Follow the same food safety rules with sprouted potatoes as with any other aging produce: When in doubt, throw it out. According to the National Capital Poison Center, it’s best to throw away potatoes that have already sprouted. That’s because the sprouts are a sign that your potatoes contain higher levels of unsafe toxins than fresh ones do.

All potatoes contain two natural toxins called solanine and chaconine. Over time, these toxins naturally increase, especially if exposed to light. These toxins live on the potato’s skin and sprouts; the white flesh of the potato contains much less. While it would take multiple servings of any potato recipe to feel the effects of these toxins, they can cause vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, headache and fever. Symptoms are usually mild but can be more severe in some people.

Peeling potatoes before you cook them can help to decrease the number of toxins you’re exposed to. You can also use a small knife or a potato peeler with an eye remover to dig out any spouts. Removing eyes and sprouts can reduce the risk of ingesting toxins, but may not help you avoid it entirely. Cooking may not entirely get rid of the toxins if the sprouts aren’t removed—and we certainly don’t recommend eating raw potatoes!

Other Signs a Potato Is Bad

Sprouting is just one sign that you should rethink eating that potato. Ideally, a potato should be firm to touch and have tight, unblemished skin. If your potato has become mushy or soft, or has blemishes, bruises or black spots, you should probably throw it out.

You might also notice your old potatoes turning green. That’s because light can also increase the potato’s chlorophyll, the compound that gives plants their green color. If you have green potatoes, it’s important to know that chlorophyll isn’t dangerous, but it’s a sign that other toxins have increased, too.

Smell is another great way to tell if a potato isn’t safe to eat. While potatoes generally smell earthy, a musty or moldy odor is a surefire sign that your potatoes need to go in the bin.

How to Keep Potatoes from Sprouting

It’s important to know how to store potatoes. Keep your potatoes in a cool, dry place like the pantry or a cabinet. Potato storage containers like these stackable baskets are ideal for tight spaces. Keep potatoes away from onions, as the gases from those veggies could speed up the sprouting process.

And while those giant bags of spuds are tempting for their cost savings, it’s safer to buy your potatoes as needed instead. If you do buy potatoes in bulk, consider storing them in a breathable, cotton storage bag in a cool, dark place.

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Carrie Madormo, RN
Now a freelance health and food writer, Carrie worked as a nurse for over a decade. When she isn't hunched over her laptop with a baby in hand, you will find her cooking her grandmother’s recipes, lacing up her running shoes or sipping coffee in the bathroom to hide from her three young children.